‘Tis better to give than to receive, unless you’re Cardinals RB David Johnson

Sep 23, 2016, 6:00 AM | Updated: 4:02 pm
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)...
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Truth be told, David Johnson is a wide receiver first and running back second; at least that’s where the Arizona Cardinals second-year star thought his career was headed, once upon a time.

“I actually played receiver a little bit in high school,” he said.

It was more than just a little bit.

At Clinton High School in Iowa, Johnson graduated as the school’s all-time leader in career receptions and receiving yards.

“I was getting recruited to play receiver in college,” he added, “so I was already getting used to that feeling of catching the ball, tucking it, running routes and stuff. I’m glad I’m able to do it here.”

Through two games, Johnson is the Cardinals’ second-leading receiver in both catches (7) and yards (141), while being targeted 11 times. Only 13-year veteran and future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald has better numbers.

Johnson, however, does top Fitzgerald in average yards per catch (20.1 to 11.6) and his 58-yard third-quarter reception against Tampa Bay is the team’s longest play from scrimmage this season.

Johnson has accomplished all of the above while still remaining the Cardinals’ No. 1 option at running back.

“He’s one of those rare guys that can do both,” Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan said, speaking to Arizona reporters on a conference call.

That Johnson can catch the football out of the backfield is not a surprise. After high school, Johnson kept up his dual-threat ability at Northern Iowa, where he totaled 141 receptions for 1,734 yards and 14 touchdowns in addition to leading the team in rushing in each of his final three seasons.

That Johnson’s receiving skills are so prevalent now in the NFL also may not be a surprise.

“You can talk to him just like he’s a receiver when you talk about setting up routes and what I’m doing with my eyes to get the ball to you here in this spot. He understands it. He’s very cerebral,” said quarterback Carson Palmer, who moved into 16th place on the all-time passing yardage list on that 58-yard throw to Johnson. “He knows what’s going on at every position around him, which is rare for a receiver, let alone rare for a running back in a receiver’s spot. It is like talking to a receiver when you talk conceptually to him about things.”

Against Tampa Bay, Johnson finished with a career-high 98 receiving yards. That prompted Fitzgerald to joke with reporters, “We don’t want him to get too comfortable in the passing game.”

It’s a comment Fitzgerald, who is always aware of his targets, has made a few times to Johnson.

“He comes to me and tells me, get us to the 20-yard line and he’ll get the touchdown,” Johnson said, smiling, before adding, “Fitz is a great player to watch and a great person to learn from in how to catch the ball. I don’t think anyone can catch as good as him. Just to be able to watch him throughout practice, throughout last year as a rookie and stuff is amazing.”

Whether running routes out of the backfield or lining up in the slot, the latter of which is a new wrinkle to the offense this year, Johnson’s pass-catching ability only makes the Cardinals offense more dynamic and more difficult for opposing teams to defend.

In other words, not bad for a 6-foot-2, 224 pound running back who slipped to the third round, the 86th overall selection, in the 2015 NFL Draft.

“He can beat you in the run game. He can beat you in the pass game,” Fitzgerald said. “When you have guys that are in their second year that are taking onus like him, I mean, you think your franchise is in pretty good shape.”

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Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) pulls in a pass as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes (24) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) pulls in a pass as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (28) and defensive end Robert Ayers (91) defend during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin his hit by Arizona Cardinals strong safety Tony Jefferson (22) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals defensive back Marcus Cooper (41) intercepts a ball intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals defensive back Marcus Cooper (41) celebrates his interception against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro (7) kicks a field goal as punter Drew Butler (2) holds during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) stiff arms Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Alterraun Verner (21) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals strong safety Tony Jefferson (22) celebrates his fumble recovery against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) celebrates a first and goal against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Jaron Brown (13) celebrates his touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Jaron Brown (13) runs after the catch for a touchdown as Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Chris Conte (23) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Jaron Brown (13) celebrates his touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Jaron Brown (13) celebrates his touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals tight end Darren Fells (85) makes a catch as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes (24) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is sacked by Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden (44) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) his hit by Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Deone Bucannon (20) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Jameis Winston (3) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals defensive back Marcus Cooper (41) celebrates his touchdown after an interception with teammate cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) can't make the catch as Arizona Cardinals defensive back Marcus Cooper (41) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals defensive back Marcus Cooper (41) scores a touchdown after an interception against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals defensive back Marcus Cooper (41) intecepts a pass for a touchdown as Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Brandon Myers (82) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals running back Chris Johnson (23) celebrates his touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals running back Chris Johnson (23) runs for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) throws under pressure from Arizona Cardinals defensive back Marcus Cooper (41) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) is hit by Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyvon Branch (27) and safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes (24) is hit by Arizona Cardinals strong safety Tony Jefferson (22) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) warms up prior to an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter throws to his players prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) warms up prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, left, greets Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter prior to an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) warms up prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) throws against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) is stopped by Arizona Cardinals cornerback Brandon Williams (26) and defensive back Tyvon Branch (27) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) intercepts a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) intercepts a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) points to the stands after intercepting a pass agains the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) runs back an interception against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals cornerback Brandon Williams (26) breaks up a pass intense for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) pulls in a pass as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (28) and defensive end Robert Ayers (91) defend during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) pulls in a pass as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes (24) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin his hit by Arizona Cardinals strong safety Tony Jefferson (22) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) stiff arms Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Alterraun Verner (21) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws under pressure from Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (98) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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